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INDEPENDENCE — To the pleasure of several eligible school division employees in attendance last Thursday night, the Grayson County School Board approved a plan that will allow nearly 30 employees to retire years early from the division.
The early retirement program was first discussed at last month's meeting, but the school board wanted more time and information to be sure it would save the school system money.
Grayson Schools Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Thomas told the board that the program would not only benefit the school system, but also the employees.
The two extreme estimates of savings range from $213,000 to $960,000 over the 13-year life of the plan. Thomas said that number would depend not only on how many participate in the program this year, but also the level experience of employees hired to replace retirees.
The key to saving money is hiring employees with minimal to no previous experience.
Numbers presented to the board showed the decrease in savings over the years of the plan if — for example — a teacher with 10 years of experience were hired.
In fact, near the end of the 13-year span, it would actually be a loss to the county. But, overall, the minimal loss at the end would still put the school system ahead.
“What we have to do is make sure we hire back at the lower end,” said board member Gary Burris. “We don't need to hire a teacher with 20 years of experience... The question becomes, can you fill your positions without bringing them over here on a boat? I don't want them being brought over on a boat.”
(Burris could have been referring to the school system's overseas teacher recruiting trip last year.)
Thomas said she anticipates most of the positions will be filled with teachers with minimal experience. “Typically the teachers that are looking for jobs are teachers just out of college and/or maybe a year of experience.”
Of the estimated 30 eligible employees, 17-18 are classroom teachers.
Board member Shannon Holdaway wanted to make sure that teachers would not be discriminated against because of the need to hire less experienced teachers.
Thomas said the most qualified candidates for the jobs would be hired, but typically, the pool of applicants tends to be those with less experience.
Holdaway then brought up the fact that the school system had a hard time in the past recruiting teachers. “Are we confident that we can go out and find 18-19 teachers in one year?”
Thomas said that when school officials talk about having difficulties recruiting, they are primarily talking about specialized areas.
“The bulk of these [positions vacant due to retirement] are at the elementary level,” Thomas said. “So we do have a good pool of applicants.”
Holdaway also asked how the quality of instruction would be affected by losing so many experienced teachers and replacing them with instructors fresh out of college.
“Well, of course we would regret to see some of our most qualified teachers go,” Thomas said. “I'm convinced we have some of the best teachers in the state right here in Grayson County. But, we are also seeing some highly qualified teachers coming in, right out of college, and feel confident we can fill those positions with excellent people.”
Burris noted that some of the retirees could come back and help mentor the younger teachers, as well as help with substituting.
Holdaway said he has struggled mightily with the program.
He asked why, if the program works so well, that it wasn't always in place?
Board member Hobert Bailey noted that it is something that could be looked at each year. The division could look at how many employees would be eligible and what the savings would be over the program's term and decide if it was something they wanted to do.
He added that it would depend from year to year on how much savings — or cost — the school system would see.
With no further discussion, the board voted unanimously to approve the program.
School personnel have until March 13 to notify administration if they plan on participating.